« 前へ次へ »
resolutely struggling with the demon of unbelief, and ceaselessly crying, “ Lord, increase my faith : Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief." Faith, even as a grain of mustard-seed, will do much : unbelief will do nothing ; nay,
the very blessing in possession. Hear thou then the words of the Son of God. Dare something, venture something ; nay, look for great things, and still greater, on so Divine a word. For the mighty works of Christ are not performed in the presence of unbelief. Say, rather, “ I will not let Thee go.”
“ Tell Him, ye wait His grace to prove,
To avoid raising denominational importance above Christian usefulness, is a point worthy of the jealous attention of any church duly concerned for its own welfare. It has been already shown, that a church does not originate in any set purpose of forming a community, but in the blessing of God on the zealous endeavours of one or more to save perishing souls. The awakened and converted are collected and associated for their own preservation and advancement, and also that they may form an auxiliary agency to that which “ called " them. The “ blessing "continues, and so the accretion ; and for a long time nothing stands before this church as an object, but the salvation of souls. It thinks nothing of itself as a community, but everything about its object,--to win souls to Christ, and train them for heaven. While it thus proceeds, its prosperity is continuous. The barriers of the fold are broken down again and again by the increase of the flock; so that the staves have to be drawn, and more ground taken in. The fold swells out with a most convenient adaptation to what it has to receive, and everything within arranges itself under the force of necessity. All this time the community knows nothing of its own strength or importance, or the subordinate uses to which it may be turned, or the degree in which it is commanding external respect. Its attention is not turned on itself. It knows itself only as a servant of Christ,-to be good, and to do good; to glorify the Master by an active and faithful service ; to receive His guidance, and allow Him to fix the bounds of its habitation. The simplicity of its object, and the artlessness of its proceeding, secure its
Whilst they continue, its prosperity is never checked. Let such a church observe well the moment at which its object is changed, or in part changed, or even becomes equivocal, so that it seems changed :the moment the glory of a church (of a given organization of men) is substituted for the glory of Christ, and the salvation of immortal souls sinks from the first position, into one subordinate to the extension or preservation of a church as such ; the moment when zeal is stirred more by the necessities or the ambition of a church, than by the love of Christ, and compassion for the dying souls of men. As all religious success is dependent on the concurrence of Christ, and all prosperity (even apparent) on the general and commanding activity of the spiritual element within the church, we must think that that moment marks the appearance of a cloud
THE FOSTERING CARE OF WHICH IT
on the horizon of such a church, which erelong may overspread the whole heaven, to the exclusion of the rays of the Sun of righteousness. Here, then, is a point to be jealously watched,—THE EARLIEST DEPARTURE OF A CHURCH FROM THE PRINCIPLE THAT FOUNDED IT, EXTENDED IT, AND UNDER
HEALTH AND VIGOUR. This is to be the more carefully watched, because such a church will not fail to profess to have the same object as at first still in view ; and “ the salvation of souls” (for that is the phrase continuing in use) will still be held forth as the main object of pursuit. But the spiritual standard may be greatly lowered; the mere increase of a congregation accepted as a religious revival ; and the introduction of a number of decent, quiet people into “the church” accounted as the conversion of so many sinners. For a time the solid body of a spiritual church may bear such “increase ” without much apparent change of structure; but in time the effect of the progressive incorporation will become manifest : the really good and holy will die off, and the solemn formalists become more numerous than the converted and happy Christians. Then will the baldness be evident; a general chill, with perhaps a partial paralysis, will come over the body; and there will be much to indicate the approach of decay and old age. Outer garments will be added to supply the warmth of a healthy inward circulation, and a good deal of doctoring applied to counteract the effects, at various points, of a deficiency of the vital force ; and this, without restoring health, may modify the effects of disease, and prolong an uneasy and troublesome old age. But, except the vital force of such a church be restored by the action of Grace, it is doomed, and it will die ; though it may be still called by certain grave divines “a church,” when its members are but three, and those three women ! *
Now, we will not intimate that the symptoms of such a doom overhang Methodism; though anything may be feared if a people once give themselves up to the comfortable and drowsy feeling of self-security. But we are concerned that not even the mere semblance of such symptoms should be discernible. We confess, therefore, to some apprehension, when activity seems to be awakened by the necessities of the church, rather than by the misery and danger of sinners ; when crippled finances and empty pews call forth a zeal which did not respond to inward impulses of the love of Christ, or the urgent claims of perishing souls ; and so special services, and special prayer-meetings, and other activities, are extemporized to save a perishing church, rather than to snatch from the fire those for whom Christ died. It is even remarked, (sometimes rudely and irreverently,) that nothing restores the breaches and recovers the finances of a church, like a revival of religion. “So," add such speakers, “ let us have a revival.” As if so sacred a thing were a man-made, man-contrived, manpronounced sort of affair! A holy thing, to come at man's bidding, to re-instate the finances, and strengthen the walls, of a falling church! Now,
* See this Magazine for January : Art., “When does a Church die ?”
if the nobler and more legitimate object of a church's zeal does not stir it, it is well that any other object not utterly secular or carnal should do
If the grace within the church does not stimulate it to enterprise and earnestness, then let the felt and marked need of that grace do so. If the presence of the Holy Spirit forces not a gracious activity, let His absence call forth humiliation, and confession, and an earnest imploring of His return. Nay, let anything that discloses weakness and decline (though it were even the want of money!) serve as a prompter to a befitting course, rather than that grace, health, and power shall not be recovered. If a church has lost the high road, let it return by a by-path, rather than not at all. We must not be more severe on the infirmities of a church than the Holy Spirit Himself; nor denounce as utterly evil those things which He is pleased to permit as incentives (however secondary) to a better course. Allowing all this, we must nevertheless confess that this tendency to overlook the supreme motives to zealous and persevering exertion, and to be stirred into motion only by secondary considerations, is ominous, and indicates that such a church no longer takes the highest ground of action. It is no longer, of its own nature, an aggressive church. It thinks no more of living continuously in presence of the enemy, and sustaining itself by a series of assaults and captures ; but is content to remain in camp, and at ease, quickened into activity only by breaches in the fortification, the loss of men, or scarcity of provisions. Christianity-the mighty agency of the Son of God for re-conquering a lost world, for destroying “ the devil and all his works”-is thus reduced to a condition of self-defence. It holds its own, indeed, but with difficulty ; roused into resolute action only by the dread of entire extermination from the frequent and vigorous assaults of a bold and daring enemy!
Let such a church beware! Before matters get worse, let it take courage to look at itself in the faithful mirror of truth. Let it no longer mistake zeal for itself, for zeal for Christ and perishing souls; nor suppose that it can flourish by the foriner, instead of the latter. Let it begin again at the beginning, and ask for the old paths, wherein is the good and the right way. As for ourselves, let us not only do a thing right in itself, but do it from the highest motives, and aim all our exertions at the noblest object to which they can be referred. Be it remembered that our business (that is, our main business) is not to conserve Methodism, but to carry out Christianity ; to apply it on every side with holy faith and untiring zeal to lost humanity, according to all the opportunity we have, or can create. In doing this, we supply the very first element in the conservancy of Methodism. We keep the waters of life freely circulating within, while they pass through, and pass out of, the sacred enclosure ; and we well know that these waters have an exhaustless Source, and will never fail if we but keep open the channels and give ready egress to the current. The streams that impart life and verdure to the desolate country beyond, will first enrich our own land, maintaining it in perpetual fertility. This grand result secured, (vital Christianity circulating in Methodism,) all that is purely economical can be preserved the more easily, by reason of the spiritual health and soundness of those who have to care for it. In other words, the SUBSTANCE OF METHODISM IS CHRISTIANITY. If that remain in life and vigour, the economy which surrounds, adapts, and applies it, (and which is a human contrivance, under scriptural instruction, giving to this particular embodiment of Christianity the name of “Methodism,") without receiving the first attention, is likely to receive sufficient for its preservation, and even improvement.
Be then the first object of earnest care our CHRISTIANITY. That will preserve our Methodism; and, without it, Methodism (the mere shell of a church) is not worth preserving. But they are like each other, they have a natural affinity ; and the greater will retain the less. Christianity, freslı from the Bible and the Holy Spirit, made Methodism. The house and covering grew out of the living substance; and, whilst the substance lives, the house will be maintained.
Not a word is said against “special services,” or any other legitimate means of stirring up & dead church. The first aim, as we take it, is the improvement of the professedly religious people of a congregation, some of whom are very little better, (if, indeed, better at all,) than their non-professing neighbours who sit on the same bench with them ; and, indeed, to the eye of the Holy Spirit, are much in the same category, and equally need His renewing grace. And why should not such services begin in the Leaders’-Meeting ; that meeting being strictly closed to all but its own members, unless it were thought desirable to add Local Preachers ? Why should it be taken for granted that the officers of a church are so much more alive than the church itself? It is often because they are dead, that the church is dead also. Were it not well, then, that they should show how conscious they are of their own “leanness," and evince a desire of spiritual refreshment, by heartily concurring in such meetings ? Should they not be anxious to stand under the thickest heaven, and catch the first drops of the falling shower? Suppose then some one of these good men, more watchful of the holy fires of the sanctuary than the rest, and very jealous for the Lord of hosts, suggesting to the chief Minister some “ special services,” and asking his interference. The Minister asks whether the other religious officers would co-operate; and, again, whether these officers would evince the greatness of their desire for the welfare of others, by first imploring a special grace on themselves. It is agreed, that these officers (Leaders and Local Preachers) shall first give“ themselves to the Lord :”—that for a month, at least, the secular business of the Leaders’Meetings shall be quickly despatched, and what further time can be spared shall be devoted to the interchange of experience, to mutual exhortation, and to earnest, persevering prayer that God may forgive the past, retouch their hearts with His gracious power, and render them all more fitting and ready instruments of His purposes for the future; and that He may make the blessing now descending on them but the earnest of one more copious on the church and congregation : these meetings being resolutely VOL. IV.-FIFTII SPIES.
continued (and not opened to the public) till such blessing has been received. It is also understood that, during this period, these officers shall give their most punctual attendance at all the regular public services both on the Sabbath and throughout the week; that they shall take special pains with their classes, visit their absent and lukewarm members, and strive everywhere to communicate the savour of their own spirit.
It is true that such a procedure would require both time and patience. Let it have them, and have them without stint or grudging. For, when men ask for these services, either they are in earnest, or they are not; and, if in earnest, how can they expect the good they seek, without prayer and pains, weeping and mourning, self-denial, and exertion? Do they expect to gather a whole multitude of fishes by a single cast of the net, and that too before the Saviour arrives ? Twice Peter and his brethren had great and unexpected success; but on both occasions they had “ toiled all the night, and taken nothing.” It was not till Christ came that they had so vast a draught, and He did not think well to come till they had toiled all night. Their success then exceeded even their perseverance.
Do men expect great results without great efforts ? Even Christ, who here gives the result, nevertheless claims the effort. How much pains men will take to accomplish nothing !-while a little more would accomplish everything, and repay tenfold, a hundredfold, all the exertion. They contemplate too vast or too precious an object for their means. They should have measured it, or themselves, or both, more accurately. This is sometimes seen in these
very “ revival-services.” If men who are so zealous would to their zeal add simplicity, meekness, unobtrusiveness, prayer at home, as well as abroad ; a watchful, chastened, expectant spirit; a habit of faith and devout feeling, pervading their days and nights ; a nursing of the spirit and hope of the public meetings during all the intervals ;-if they were burdened for a time with one desire, and, while unavoidably busy and prominent, ready to sink into the earth (in their great humility) and hide themselves, if haply Christ may be glorified, and precious souls brought to love and trust Him ;-and if, with all this, they would watchfully avoid whatever might grieve or check the Holy Spirit in His own work; not countenancing any false or sham conversions, or seeming, by any action or saying of theirs, to own as His work what their own spiritual instinct tells them is not such ; willing to go without a result, rather than to create a false one for the sake of effect; repudiating, the while, in a noble, persevering faith, the possibility of failure:-if, we say, good men would add all these things to their zeal, and zeal to all these things, surely no mean, no equivocal, no circumscribed blessing, no blessing merely presumed and hoped, would attend such endeavours. In such cries and tears, and holy wrestling, the Spirit would hear His own voice, His own intercession, His own unutterable “groanings ;” and He would respond with all His grace, all His fulness, all His power of love. Then should be a blessing, there should scarce be room to contain it!
Imagine what would be the interest soon awakened in a Methodist